The Unglamorous half of Writing

If you are on a break from writing,
consider this-

You can don your best peaked hat in dark, brooding colours that makes you look intimidating and on the front, embroidered in purple thread is the word, ‘Editor’.

Don’t feel like writing? Never mind. You can always edit your work. Rummage through your drawers for those manuscripts shoved there weeks or months back. Straighten out the pages, flip through them.

You would be surprised at the quality of work. You might of course pull your hair in frustration at the lack of clarity or be glowing in the reflected glory of a well written piece.

But stop, don’t tell yourself that the words are yours. Till the time you are wearing that cap, don’t identify yourself with the story or the narrative. Better still, think it is some low life scum who wrote that and now is the time for you to teach him a lesson.

Take out the highlighters and the coloured pens that you keep stashed away. Use them with abandon. Strike out what is even a tad bad. You are free to use cuss words to tell the writer what’s really wrong with that writing. Laugh at the plot holes. Snicker st the pacing. Write all that you feel is wrong with the manuscript.

There, you are having so much fun. Editing is the other half, the hidden half, the unglamourous half of writing and even though you did not write any words today, you were still writing.

Feeling good, eh?

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Of Soul Sisters

laura-griffin.com

Aren’t there some blessings that we take for granted? Aren’t there people in our lives, especially the ones close to us and available all the time, whom we neglect to say thanks to? Don’t we sometimes forget to consider how much they enrich our lives?

When I started writing about things that mattered to me, someone told me to write about other women because being a woman myself, we have a ‘universality of experience’. It sounded odd, to be writing of my sisters, many of whom are separated by time and cultures. Did I really understand their struggles, their concerns and their joys? It takes maturity to be able to identify with the other, across such gaps but yes, we are all of the same soil.

There is something about soul sisters and women who feel like kin, even when we are not related. A woman to woman solidarity is one of the most precious things that we know of.

I recently read about a book, an epistolary novella, ‘So Long a Letter’ by Mariamma Ba. Claire at ‘Word by Word’ has written a very fine review. I expressed an interest in the storyline and here is what Claire had to say,

“…I think it also reflects something unsaid, but obvious, the importance of both having a close female friend, a sister in solidarity and also having a notebook and pen, that place to express oneself when the friend isn’t there, when there is a need to get things out of the mind and give them a kind of home, the journal, the unsent letters, things written without interruption.”

This viewpoint struck such a chord in me.

It really is a gift to be able to speak, express and share with a kindred soul when things get difficult and when we ourselvexs do not understand which path to take, whether to react with belligerence or to bear it with fortitude.

For a woman, having a soul sister or a maternal figure in her life is invaluable. There are times when we need to make sense of circumstances and of our choices and there is no one better who can counsel us. Mere listening is also enough sometimes.

To be able to write, to pour oneself in letters, sent or unsent, to address someone in our minds, who is sympathetic and can see our viewpoint is priceless. To be able to ramble on, to be able to talk over tea, to have someone understand our pauses and the unshed tears is invaluable.

It made me aware of how fortunate we are to have someone to listen to us and how precious soul sisters are.

I am grateful to all the women in my life who have been around, waiting for me to speak and being patient when I chose silence over words. But for their understanding and strength, I would have been confused and taken a longer route to being who I am today.

To BuJo and Back

When I started blogging, I would always write my blog posts first on paper and then type them out. Labour intensive yes, but I just could not seem to think well while typing. My ideas flowed better with a pencil in hand and the scratching sound on paper reassured me that something was happening. I was making progress.

Then came modernity. I wanted to be able to type long documents, not the office communication or the reports kinds but the imaginative ones. The ones that had stories or articles or posts. So I moved from the paper to the screen. Soon, I was doing very well for someone who could only write on paper. Thus started my journey into the world of typing on keyboards and keypads. Soon, even the grocery lists on paper were replaced by the ones on my phone. It was just easier and convenient.

But over the years, I found that I was in need of inspiration a lot of times and I was just getting very tired of looking at screens. One day, while going through my things I came across my journals that I have filled with my scrawny writing over the years. And the itch to write on paper started again.

I like things to be organised and my writing too and of course, I love making lists. That was the perfect recipe for falling for a BuJo. For the uninitiated (I don’t think there are any), a BuJo is a Bullet Journal, which is a simple and innovative journal designed to keep everything in place, aka the notes, the tasks, your progress. It helps keep you on top in terms of assignments, to-dos, the social calender etc. For me, it also meant not letting go of those creative ideas and the little moments in a day that I could write about.

BuJos beckon the artistic and the organised. It is like a person’s mind, on the page. I had always wanted a journal that would carry Everything that I had ever wanted to write and that had ever crossed my mind. There were the lists, the random things that struck me through the day, the useful resources that I discover, the facts that I uncover from long time mysteries. There is the progress on my daily, weekly and monthly goals. There are the new ideas that just cannot go cold. There are opportunities and there is potential waiting to be tapped and I have to write it all down. And yes, there are my emotions and blog post ideas and things I must share with my group of friends.

I tried creating a very beautiful looking, artsy Bullet Journal. But the entire planning process took days. It was more of a balancing act, writing what, where and at the same time to not let it descend into chaos and an overwritten page.

I know that half the world is crazy about BuJos and the other half is just the ignorant lot. But, somehow, the planning took away the spontaneity.

I got back to the ordinary notebook, grateful for the simplicity. I now carry a bunch of them around with me; colour coded into sections so that I can find what I want without the option for a digital search. My pencils are right next to them and I am happy with the scratch of the pencil on paper.

How much do you write by hand? Do you have a journal? Do you do a BuJo? What have your experiences been?

What I have been doing…

Plumeria

Image Credit: Background Plumeria by Jade Moon

I keep getting the urge to yell ‘I am Back‘ on my blog and I really could not let this entire month go by without posting anything. So, at the far end of the month, rather than the brand new beginning of a new month or even a new week, I am trying to make some sense while writing this.

I have been away for some time and I had the usual reasons. I didn’t know what to write, I was busy, I wanted to shake up things but did not know exactly how. I wanted to start the year on a good foot, with an elaborate plan for the blog, planning out content with editorial calenders, posting a number of things, a judicious mix of the serious and the light hearted, the long and short.

But I never got around to making those plans and really, even after all these years blogging, I work more by the seat of my pants, blogging while feeling inspired or intensely emotional or wonderfully elated.

And all this inactivity has led to a deeper disquiet, more than a mere lethargy. It is a sense of boredom, of apathy, or an ennui. Of course, life gets in the way of writing and just too frequently for my liking.

I started the year by having monthly writing goals. No surprises and because there has been nothing posted here, it is safe to assume that I did not meet those goals. They need to be refined for month 2 of the year. I am also getting back to writing by hand, as opposed to be always typing on some keyboard or some screen and got two journals, plain white sheets with colour coded sections. However much I like them, the inertia kicked in and my first few days of the shift was characterised by staring at them in dread.

The stress of the shift to pen and paper, coupled with low productivity nearly led me to binge eating but I reigned myself in, just in time. Now, I am experimenting with healthy meals, which are sometimes so bland and uninteresting that binge eating is impossible.

I am still reading though, many books and yes, here too I should step out of my comfort zone. Perhaps I should read fantasy or sci fi. I am still writing the reviews so that is some writing I am doing, even though I am posting them elsewhere.

I am also wondering if I am a writer and this quote made me sure that I am.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” -Thomas Mann

I think a change of scenery would be good. I have been traveling and had a good change. On the blog, I need to change the theme and the layout and some change in content.

I am also dipping my toes in social media. I joined Twitter and am loving the brevity and the wit and the sarcasm. It’s a great tool for getting more eyeballs but I am still taking baby steps.

Any tips and tricks for Twitter that you could suggest? (@Writenlive1)

Coming back to the original question, what should I write about? I hope to sort this out soon.

I welcome your suggestions.

The NaNoWriMo Experience

 Why this post?

A month and a half back, nearly at the end of October, I planned a set of posts for the blog that I would do in November. I would be busy doing the NaNoWriMo and what thing can be more wonderful than writing nano related posts? I wanted to write weekly updates. I wanted to talk about what I learnt through writing so much. I wanted to rave about my learnings. I wanted to crib at the inevitable setbacks.

All those plans failed, though. Once I got sucked into the vortex of writing, I did not have the energy to even reply to the comments on my blog (not that there were many).

So, this should have been the last in a long series of posts; instead it is standalone. What have I learnt from trying to fit 50k words in 30 days?

What I Learnt

First and foremost, it is a mind-altering (replace that with mindset) experience. Writing a lot, writing regularly, showing up and pushing at it stretches the writing muscle in unimaginable ways. I found myself feeling very confident of my writing abilities after these stints. It is like taking the angst out of writing and striking out all the romantic notions of the Muse. Writing feels more of a craft than being a mere talent that I am dredging up.

I understand the writing process much better now. I understand the places where I face blocks. I understand which times of the day are good for writing. I know what to do when there are minor conflicts in the plots. (Outline, question yourself and bring up plausible answers). I know how to work around gaping plot holes (go for a walk, the longer, the better. Each extra mile brings a fresher perspective). I have learnt to rewrite flat scenes and make them more layered.

Writing a lot, even when you have nothing to write forces you to bring up words from the very depths of your being and that is actually good and magical because otherwise those experiences and words stay in your subconscious. There have been times when I was simply pushed in a corner regarding a particular scene but I soldiered on, wrote some more, hated myself for writing rubbish, forced myself to imagine the unbelievable, wrote that and found some gems.

This NaNoWriMo, I wanted to be a rebel. There was last year’s MS staring at me and I was trying not to catch it’s eye. I have neglected it a lot but the fact was that I was absolutely terrified of opening it again and look at how bad the slush pile really was. But there was no way I was going to start writing something new. I could not have handled the guilt. So, I put on my cool sunglasses (ahem, the sunglasses were normal temperature; they just made me look cool) and picked up last year’s 50k pile to attempt to make it better.

This strategy made me understand the joy of first drafts. Till now, they have been the source of vexation, the mine from where I was yet to find diamonds. Now I love their spontaneity and their potential and that writing them can be so easy as compared to rewriting an existing manuscript.

I have always loved the idea of writing quickly. Last year, I timed myself and the faster I wrote the better I felt. There is no greater exhilaration than having a few thousand words under your belt at the end of the day. This year has been different. I saw that writing very fast affects the quality of my writing even when I stick to an outline. So, I went back to writing thoughtfully, deliberately, choosing words carefully so that my satisfaction at the end of the day stemmed from writing meaningfully.

And yes, writing buddies are invaluable. Also, the NaNoWriMo forums are awesome. Every once in a while I got frustrated by my lack of progress and I needed to vent. I wrote long rambling angst ridden passages to myself, setting out why I was writing and what things I was trying to accomplish (showing off the NaNoWriMo winner certificate topped the list). Some days, I could not understand what was I doing. Was I writing? Editing? Rewriting? Looking for plot holes and incongruous character development? These were the times when I found that bouncing ideas with my writing friends led to clarity much sooner than a pity party or a rant would have brought. So, I am keeping my sympathisers and critics close to me.

And, also…

There were also things that I hated. I disliked the intrusion of my Inner Editor (IE) very much. The first week goes along fine. That’s the time to ride the crest of your writerly voice. Soon, the IE manages to unshackle itself and show up. Looking over your shoulder, making disparaging remarks; your writing life turns to hell. It’s really important to exercise all your will power and throw the IE back into the dungeon.

I also started obsessing over word count. Usually, I stop writing when I have covered the major points and have said all that I wanted to say and the piece looks complete. Now, I was counting words in my writing and my texting and my talking. I was evaluating every event of my life in terms of how much time it took and how many words I could have written instead.

Being immersed in writing and doing not much else for long stretches of time is my idea of bliss and while I loved every minute of that chance, I also realised that writing too much can and does lead to a burnout. We need breaks. However, this year, I did not have the luxury of doing that because I had spent too much time thinking and rethinking the plot, making some changes in the structure and trying to chase the word count at the same time. Towards the end, I was reduced to talking to myself while walking on the road, alone. I would laugh and frown for no apparent reason, at least not apparent to the people around me. Visualising a new scene put me in a frenzy of writing and after it had been written, I often found myself sitting and typing away in very odd places.

Would I do it all over again, if I had the choice? Yes, of course!

How did you find your NaNoWriMo experience? Please share your insights.

How Chris Baty saved me from going down the rabbit hole of despair

Chris Baty needs no introduction to NaNoWrimers. The founder of National Novel Writing Month, in 1999, along with 21 of his friends set out to write a complete novel of 50k words. He has been an inspiration since, both in managing the November event and in pulling writers out from the depths of despair through his pep talks.

I had the fortune to read his book, ‘No plot, No Problem’, just before last year’s writing marathon. I sped read to ensure I knew everything about NaNoWriMo before getting into it. It is a hilarious, easy-to-read and profoundly informative manual on how to tackle the writing and how to conquer the fears, insecurities, the writing blocks and the inevitably super critical Inner Editor. Chris Baty goes into the entire month, moving from week to week, explaining what to expect and what problems the writers are likely to encounter and of course how to handle them. Through sharp wit and unrelenting humour, Chris Baty holds your hand through the entire process of churning out a first draft of a nearly full length novel.

Post NaNoWriMo, it is desirable that the first draft be revised and edited and rewritten to make it a readable book. But even if that does not come about and you feel that the world is not ready for your masterpiece just yet, doing the writing marathon is an incredibly rewarding experience.

Check out the book and sharpen your pencils.

How to Create a Literary Masterpiece in 30 days

For the writers who sweat it out day after day, painstakingly writing and crossing out, editing and rewriting and creating worlds through sheer hard work, the idea of writing a novel in 30 days is a laughable proposition. And incredibly naive.

Having been through NaNoWriMo once and having survived, I can say with confidence that it is possible to set down 50 k words in a month but that makes only an initial draft. True, writing a novel or a book takes more than that, both in time and effort. But NaNoWriMo is the first push you can give yourself and the first clear commitment you can make to yourself for getting over that writing project or starting a new ambitious work that would eventually became a literary masterpiece.

First and foremost, have the energy and the plan to write 1667 words per day, if you are going to write each and every day. That, sometimes is not possible because life catches up so the word count should be a little higher as a cushion for the non writing days. Prepare to write a lot every day and to prioritise writing over a lot of other things, at least for a short period of a few weeks.

The next thing to be sure of is about what you are writing. I went in completely clueless last NaNoWriMo. I mean I had a vague plan, a very unformed story and just the mood and the emotion only three days before I actually started writing. This meant that I stumbled through the story for many days till I found my feet. I would go through the writing, even notching up the word count but much of the early writing needed to be cut out and rewritten. So having a good outline is good idea. There would be surprises, of course, and your story might veer off the path entirely but just in case the book does not write itself, you know in which direction to push it.

These are just two things, which, when done right would help you reach the 50k mark without much difficulty. Who knows, you may overshoot the mark and keep at the writing.

Good Luck to all the NaNoWrimers! Announce your novel to the world, soon.